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ATD Blog

Ask a Trainer: Should I Diversify My TD Skills?

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Dear Tim,

I’ve been reading your Ask a Trainer column over the last several months, so I know you have experience designing for e-learning, in-person training, and virtual instructor-led training. How important do you think it is that instructional designers be able to design in all three of those modalities?

I’m an instructional designer, and historically almost all of my design experience has come from in-person training. Those are still the projects I prefer working on, but over the last few months, I’ve started working on some vILT and e-learning design projects, as my organization’s training has largely gone virtual.

Do you think I need to be skilled in all three areas, or is it okay to have a specialization?

Hi there. Thanks for submitting this great question!

When I first fell into the world of learning and development, I was tasked with designing several e-learning courses. It was through that experience I realized I had a talent and passion for e-learning; so much so, I decided to make a career out of it. The truth is, at the time, I didn’t consider myself an instructional designer. In fact, I thought that was something different from what I was doing with e-learning design and development.

Of course, now I know that I was wrong with this notion. As a learning professional, I focus a lot on instructional design. It’s not a specialized type of position but rather a function of what I do. I tell you this story because it’s easy to establish boundaries around what you do day in and day out, without considering how your job may extend into other areas of our industry.

So, do you need to be skilled in other aspects of our industry, or is it okay to stick with your specialization? Well, I think it depends on what you want out of your career in the long-term. Yes, of course, it’s OK to stick with what you’ve decided to specialize in, especially if it’s what makes you happy and you’re amazing at doing it.

However, I think there’s also the case to be made for diversifying your skills. Here are three reasons why.


#1: It’s easier than ever to design and develop multimedia content.
There was a time when our industry was focused only on instructional design and facilitation. If you wanted to create an e-learning course, you might design the content, but you’d have to hand it off to a developer to create the course and a graphic designer to create the graphics.

However, nowadays, it’s easier than ever to design and development almost any type of multimedia content. Whether you need to design a custom graphic, produce an explainer video, or develop an e-learning course, many of the most popular tools on the market allow you to accomplish these tasks with no coding knowledge.

As a result, it’s become the norm for employers to expect these skills in their learning and development employees, even if it’s not the primary function of the job. This leads me to my second point.

#2: Employers are expecting more from their employees.
Because it has become so much easier to design and develop multimedia content, employers are expecting more from their employees. This has led many learning organizations to structure their teams in such a way that an instructional designer is everything from a project manager to a graphic designer, e-learning developer, occasional facilitator, data analyst, and everything in between.

Whether this is the right or wrong strategy, I don’t know. However, what it means is that the more well-rounded you are and the more expertise you can bring to the table, the more likely you’ll have longevity in your career.

#3: There’s greater competition in the job market.
Finally, it’s important to recognize that there’s a lot more competition in the job market than there’s ever been before. Not only is the market flooded with folks who were laid off due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but we’re also seeing a recognition that our industry isn’t as much of a niche as it used to be. More learning professionals are freelancing, building portfolios, branding, and marketing themselves online.


All of this adds up to you needing to work harder to be noticed as a viable candidate. And as I mentioned, the more skills you can bring the table, the better off you’ll be.

You can still be successful by specializing your skills in one or two things. However, you want to balance those with the ability to do many different things when necessary. I hope that all makes sense and helps you out. I wish you the best of luck!


What other tips do you have about diversifying your training and development skills? Share them by commenting below.

Check out the new ATD Ask a Trainer Video Series on YouTube. Each month we’ll publish a new episode in which Tim Slade answers questions submitted via social media.

Do you have a learning question you’d like me to tackle? You can email them to [email protected] Also, visit the Ask a Trainer hub to check out all of your questions and my answers.

We welcome your comments and engagement on these posts. All posts are reviewed to ensure appropriateness based on ATD’s requirements for postings in our online communities.

Please note: Content shared in this column is provided by the author and may not reflect the perspectives of ATD.

About the Author

Tim Slade is a speaker, author, award-winning
e-learning designer, and author of The eLearning
Designer’s Handbook.

1 Comment
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Fantastic question. Fantastic answer. Thank you both. (Good news for the training professionals who are training traditional TD'ers to become proficient in eLearning creation and delivery!)
Thanks, Diann!
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